The Pool Industry's Perfect Storm: Shortages, Back-Orders, and Price Increases

Posted by Matt Fichera on Mar 11 2021

The Pool Industry's Perfect Storm: Shortages, Back-Orders, and Price Increases

Since the beginning of the pandemic the pool and spa industry has experienced its busiest stretch ever recorded with unprecedented demand across the board. As people have been spending more time at home than was normal, there’s been a shift in focus away from family vacations over to investing in home improvements, outdoor living, and a safe “staycation” alternative. However, with the increased business comes many of the same problems that have plagued other industries albeit more widespread than most. Supply chain management issues, natural disasters, raw material shortages, have all contributed to an industry that’s quickly finding itself in the deep end.

Covid-19 and Pool Chemicals

An increase in pool usage also creates an increased need to keep them clean with chemical disinfectant. From a manufacturing standpoint, increased demand for household cleaners brought on by the pandemic, especially in the early days last spring, also diverted time and resources away from pool chemical production. Marketing DIY articles on “How to Effectively Shock Your Pool” morphed into blogs on “How to Mix Pool Shock with Water to Clean Surfaces”.

In the United States there are 3 major chlorine manufacturers which, previous to Covid-19 entering the picture, had successfully lobbied for high tariffs on imported chlorine products thus eliminating a good deal of the competition. Spring and summer of 2020 these companies were struggling to meet demand but by the early fall, had significantly caught back up. Then the factory fire happened.

Chlorine Fire and Subsequent Shortage

In August 2020 Hurricane Laura spun into the New Orleans area wreaking havoc on many homes and businesses. The storm caused major damage and a resulting fire at a Biolab plant that lasted for 3 days. Biolab is the parent company of BioGuard pool chemicals. This plant produces 115 million pounds of “trichlor” and “dichlor” per year which is roughly 40% of the entire nation’s supply and it was all lost in the fire. This amount of chlorine is simply too much to be removed from the market without significant issues. Other manufacturers of these products cannot simply make up the difference.

What does this mean for the 2021 pool season and the availability of chlorine? Distributors have already put their retail customers on allocation. Pool and spa chemical retailers cannot order any more chlorine products than they did in 2020 despite the ongoing increase in demand and interest in swimming pools and spas overall. This has caused a ripple effect as other pool sanitization options will be impacted as solutions to fill the void created are found.

Luckily, there are other options within the pool industry for keeping your pool clean. It’ll be even more important for pool owners to be informed of this situation while also being educated regarding chlorine alternatives moving forward as this shortage could impact 2022 as well.

Sold Out Pools and Hot Tubs

Major pool and spa manufacturers are experiencing production lead times that have never ever been seen before. Most companies have wait times spanning multiple months while some others are already completely sold out. Whether it’s a new vinyl liner or an above ground pool, a new hot tub or that inground pool that you’ve always wanted, both the manufacturing and install times on most are already past Labor Day 2021. Much of this interest was carry over from a sold out 2020 year causing 2021 to take off even before it started. This swell in business will most likely, again, push back normal availability into the 2022 year.

Above Ground Pools

Most above ground pools are manufactured on Long Island, in New Jersey, or Canada. During the initial wave of Covid-19 these places were some of the hardest hit and put on the most strictest of working guidelines and stoppages. With everyone staying at home during the same time caused a spike in demand just as supply was grinding to a halt for nearly 2 months. From here and beyond demand has only increased. Some above ground pool manufacturers remain years behind schedule as they are still not operating at full capacity. Above ground pools and above ground pool liners were some of the very first products to be declared sold out for the season. These manufacturers are continuing to produce but are struggling with a limited workforce and constant disruptions in the supply chain.

Deep Freeze in Texas

It’s very common in Texas and other southern states to leave swimming pools open all year round with no winterizing process ordinarily needed. But alas, these are not ordinary times and the third week of February 2021 was not an ordinary week in Texas. Outside air temperatures plummeted into the single digits which is simply unheard of. After acknowledging the terrible loss of life and impact on daily living that occurred, this flash freeze caused immediate and significant damage to pool systems that otherwise would never face the threat of temperatures this low. When water freezes it expands so equipment such as filters and pump cracked and broke under the pressure created as the water turned to ice. A direct result of this ordeal was the demand for replacement whole goods, pump parts, filter parts, and plumbing parts increased astronomically. Texas is a big state and that’s quite a lot of pools falling victim to the weather.

The natural disaster that occurred in Texas is the latest incident to impact the pool industry. It is expected that over half a million sets of equipment will be needing replacement. Under normal circumstances, the increase in business and the need to get products to the state may be welcomed, but not this year and especially not right now. Major distributors typically cover a certain geographic area and have a responsibility to that area first. Taking products that may have already been hard to come by and on allotment, then shifting them to another part of the country, is less than ideal for business relationships or the industry overall. Many major manufacturers in and out of the pool industry are based in Texas and the loss of power has halted resin and ethylene production which means no plastic is being produced. The hardships occurring in Texas will also be felt across many industries for years to come.

What Does All Of This Mean For Me?

The swimming pool industry is on shaky ground going into the 2021 season. Unforeseen circumstances as previously discussed have not allowed the industry to sufficiently recover from last year. The regular peaks and valleys of a mostly seasonal space did not occur as they would normally. Recently, within the industry the term “Force Majeure” has been used. This basically means unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract. That certain industry manufacturer has decided to completely cease production and wait it out while others continue along the best they can.

The pool and spa industry is dealing with shortages especially when it comes to chlorine, resins, and plastics. It’s also experiencing long lead times, unprecedented demand, and dramatic price increases while also still feeling the impact that Covid-19 has made.

E-Z Test Pool Supplies continues to be your trusted pool advisers bringing you valuable information, advice, and products. We can be reached at 603-382-7010 or [email protected].

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